Nails vs Screws. When to Use Each of Them

Believe it or not, there’s quite a lot to learn when it comes to woodworking tasks involving either nails or screws. It’s not just the way you drive the fastener, but it takes knowing which one is suitable for the task at hand. That’s exactly what we’re going to learn here today.

Sure, it’s important to know the main screw head types that are most commonly used, it’s important to know the sizes of nails and screws, and more. However, it’s also important to know what type of use each of these items is intended for. Among the first things to understand when it comes to nails vs. screws is the difference between grip and shear strength.

What Is Grip Strength?

Grip strength relates to the screw or nail’s ability to hold down two or more pieces of wood on top of each other. Grip strength means that the screw or nail will hold them in place so that you won’t be able to separate them vertically. You will know the difference when we compare shear strength.

When it comes to grip strength, the clear choice would be using screws. It’s quite easy to understand why. The screw threads allow them to grip the pieces of wood better than a nail ever could. Because of this, it’s very hard to pull apart two pieces of wood with vertical force while using screws.

What Is Shear Strength?

Unlike grip, shear strength means that the item will hold the pieces of wood together when you pull them apart from the sides. It means that the nail or screw won’t bend. Objects that experience shear force should be held down with a fastener intended for just that. Objects that experience vertical force and have the risk of being pulled apart should be fastened with a fastener intended for preventing this.

It may not always look like it, but screws are much more breakable than nails. This is why they can break when facing shear force from the sides. Nails do have a tendency to bend but they will hardly ever snap as a screw would. For this type of situation, always use nails.

When to Use Nails?

pile of nails

The most common use for a nail can be found in various jobs involving woodworking. Nails handle better under pressure and can be used for tougher jobs that need to hold more weight. They don’t break as easily as screws but can bend from time to time, depending on the quality of the nail itself. If you’re asking yourself whether to use nails or screws for certain jobs, then here’s a bit of help when it comes to using nails.

Remember: Use nails for permanent constructions and somewhere that you don’t want a visible fastener head. Use screws if you plan to take the item apart.

Framing Walls and Roofs

We mentioned that nails do much better when facing vertical force. Well, structural joints made when framing walls or roofs often experience this type of force. That’s why it’s better to use the sturdier option that doesn’t tend to snap like a screw would. There are always exceptions, but try to stick to nails whenever having to choose between nails vs. screws for framing.

Installing Hardwood Floors

Since floorboards have gravity working on their side, it’s hard to allow any type of force to pull them apart unless you want it to. However, there’s one crucial factor that requires nails to be used for this type of work. Unlike screws, nails won’t make the wood crack when conditions like moisture and weather change.

Attaching Siding and Roofing

Typically, roofing wood is much softer than the wood used for flooring. As a result, softwoods require a more gentle approach. Small nails that are no less than 2 inches in length work perfectly for roofing. Driving in screws can also be much more expensive when it comes to a large quantity being used. The same can be said for installing siding as well.

When to Use Screws?

screws of different sizes

While nails may be a more permanent solution than screws, screws are mostly preferred for projects that can also be taken apart quite easily. This includes furniture, hardware, sawhorses, and much more. If you take this into consideration before you begin your project, you will know exactly what to use.

Let’s say you’re building a small cabinet that you may want to take apart later. Using nails will make this part of the process a lot harder. On top of that, many find screws to be a lot easier to work with. Try hammering nails in hard to reach spots. Instead, using something like a ratcheting screwdriver will make most jobs a lot easier and will require less force. Here are some of the most common tasks that you will be better off using screws vs. nails.

Remember: Use screws on any wood constructions that you may need to take apart later.

Assembling Furniture

There are a few reasons why you would want to use screws rather than nails when it comes to furniture. Among the most significant is the fact that you’ll probably want to re-assemble the furniture at one point or another. This might be because you want to transport it somewhere, to give it a new coat of lacquer or paint, and more. On top of that, assembling any type of furniture with nails is riskier, as you’re more likely to break it that way.

Hanging Drywall

It’s a known fact that drywall is a relatively delicate material. Imagine slamming a bunch of nails into this material. You’d probably be left with many smaller pieces after that, right? Well, it should be a no-brainer and you should always use screws to hang drywall. Carefully driving the right types of screws through this type of material will offer a clean and hassle-free process.

About The Author

Stole Trishanski

Stole likes writing and DIY. Being raised by a single mother, he was forced to adapt and discover his way around the house by himself. He brings his life experiences to you in hopes of sharing his knowledge with everyone who needs it.

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